2 Changes from the 2010 election |
Length of negotiation period
5. The length of the negotiation period after the
2010 election was relatively short. It took just five days for
the outline of the coalition agreement to be agreed and thirteen
days for the final programme for Government to be released. Dr
Petra Schleiter and Valerie Belu, of the University of Oxford,
told us that this "compared to an average of thirty-nine
days for the rest of Western Europe."
6. There are some reasons why the negotiation period
may be longer in 2015. Professor Robert Hazell, from University
College London told us:
[I]t is very likely to take longer than five
days before the negotiations are concluded [
] there are
likely to be more players in the game this time round. [
it is very likely that the parliamentary parties will take a closer
interest and will expect to be consulted more closely before they
allow their party leaders to sign up to any deal. [
forget that in 2010 the agreement reached after five days was
not formally the coalition agreement that became the programme
7. Dr Catherine Haddon from the Institute for Government
argued that the length of the negotiation period could be longer
in 2015 compared with 2010. She told us:
[C]ertainly media and political expectations
and the public's expectations may now have changed to allow for
a bit of a longer period than the pressure we saw last time round.
8. In the event of an election result which delivers
no overall majority, negotiations on government formation may
not result in a coalition. If agreement cannot be reached between
parties which have sufficient members to reach a majority in the
House of Commons, a party or parties may reach agreement on forming
an administration on the basis of support from other parties on
matters of confidence and supply.
9. The public should expect that the negotiation
period for the formation of a potential coalition Government or
confidence and supply arrangement will be longer in 2015 than
The effect of the Fixed-term Parliaments
10. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has meant
that for almost five years the Government and the Civil Service
have known the date of the 2015 General Election. The Institute
for Government told us that this meant that:
[R]estrictions on government activity should
be more of a theoretical than a practical problem. [
government and the civil service have been able to plan ahead
to avoid any decisions both during the campaign and in the weeks
11. It will of course not be possible to schedule
all major decisions to be taken by a caretaker administration
to fall outside the process of government formation: unexpected
issues may require an immediate decision by Ministers, and while
a government is being formed Ministers may be required to attend
and take decisions at scheduled or unscheduled international meetings.
For instance, shortly after the 2010 election, the then Chancellor
of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP, attended an urgent
meeting of EU finance ministers to discuss the bailout for the
euro, and committed the UK to the deal.
12. Asked whether the Act had helped with Government
planning for the 2015 election, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy
Heywood, told us:
It has certainly helped to plan when the election
is going to be so you work out at what point during the five years
certain things can happen. I do not think it has materially helped
in the period after, at the start of a new five-year term, because
whether or not you have uncertainty depends on the outcome of
the election. In many scenarios, you may not have an uncertainty.
13. While we recognise that, in a number of scenarios,
after a general election there may not be uncertainty over the
nature of the continuing or incoming administration, opinion polling
in the last months of this Parliament has consistently indicated
the likelihood of an election result with no overall majority.
We are therefore disappointed that the opportunity provided by
the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has not been used by the Government
and the Civil Service to plan better for the potential of a period
of negotiations immediately following the General Election. An
opportunity to ensure that as far as possible key decisions do
not have to be taken by a caretaker administration during a period
of government formation appears to have been missed. We
recommend that in future the Civil Service seeks as far as possible
to schedule key decisions for Ministers until after the end of
any likely period of Government formation after an election.
Consultation within political
14. Given the likelihood that the 2015 election will
not deliver a clear majority to a single party, there will need
to be negotiations between the parties before a new government
can be formed. We considered the processes that the three largest
parties in the current Parliament, who all participated in negotiations
following the 2010 election, had in place to manage the process.
We focussed in particular on the processes by which the party
leaders and negotiating teams consulted with their parliamentary
parties, recognising that in the absence of such processes any
agreement might lack legitimacy within the parties that have committed
to it and might therefore be unstable.
15. In May 2010 only the Liberal Democrats had a
clear process by which the approval of the party was sought for
the agreement that had been reached. Annette Brooke, Chair of
the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party, and Baroness Brinton,
President of the Liberal Democrats, indicated that, because of
the way the Liberal Democrats were constituted, there had been
a steady process of consultation through the negotiation process.
The party's Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee had
made clear to the negotiating team the sort of approach they would
like to see adopted. Subsequently, the parliamentary party convened
in Westminster on the Saturday following the election and met
regularly until the initial coalition agreement was approved by
the Federal Executive on Tuesday 11 May. On Saturday 16 May, the
party held a special conference in Birmingham at which the coalition
agreement was approved.
16. The Labour and Conservative parties were seemingly
less well-equipped to deal with the negotiation process. Mr Graham
Brady MP, the chair of the Conservative Party's 1922 Committee,
a committee of all backbench Conservative MPs, said that the "circumstances
took everyone by surprise" and conceded that "our institutional
framework was simply not there".
The chairman of the Committee had not stood for re-election and
there had been no procedures in place to ensure continuity until
a new chairman had been selected. The Labour Party had no mechanism
in place to ensure consultation between the negotiating team and
front bench and parliamentary party and national executive.
17. It is clear that those parties which participated
in the negotiation process last time have reflected on and learnt
from the experience. Labour and the Conservatives have acknowledged
the need for greater internal consultation during any negotiations.
Labour have updated their standing orders to require the party
leader to consult with both the parliamentary party and the party's
national executive committee.
John Cryer MP, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP),
also noted that the power of the PLP's ruling body, the backbench-dominated
Parliamentary Committee, to call a meeting at any time could be
used to ensure any proposals were properly discussed.
Mr Brady made clear that the 1922 Committee was now properly prepared
for engagement with negotiations after the election: arrangements
had been made to ensure that there was a body that could communicate
the views of Conservative backbench MPs to the leadership throughout
any negotiations. The Liberal Democrats have refined their consultation
mechanisms, trying to streamline the process without sacrificing
representativeness. The party bodies previously involved now nominate
smaller reference groups to liaise with the negotiating team.
18. It is not for us to specify the precise mechanisms
by which parties should approach any negotiations over forming
a government. They are structured differently, and the detail
of any consultation and subsequent ratification will reflect that.
As we indicated in our earlier report on government formation,
it is for the political parties to decide if they wish to review
their internal procedures. We are pleased to note that they all
appear to agree on the principle that there should be consultation
throughout the process.
19. We welcome the fact that parties involved
in negotiations in 2010 have made formal changes to their internal
processes so that there can be greater consultation with Members
of Parliament and, perhaps equally importantly, all three parties
seem to acknowledge the need for consultation on any agreement
to which their party wishes to commit them.
3 Dr Petra Schleiter and Valerie Belu (GFE 02) para
Q2 [Prof Robert Hazell] Back
Q3 [Dr Catherine Haddon] Back
Institute for Government (GFE 03), para 7 Back
'Osborne urged Darling to opt out of EU bail-out', The Telegraph,
1 July 2011 Back
Q109 [Sir Jeremy Heywood] Back
Qq144-147 [Mr Graham Brady MP] Back
Q77 [John Cryer MP] Back
Q77 [John Cryer MP] Back
Q78 [John Cryer MP] Back
Q61 [Baroness Brinton] Back